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Welcome to the Age of Digital Darwinism

16 Mar, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

Charles Darwin's theory of Natural Selection posits that the weak and inferior members of a species will perish so only the strong can breed. For example, solid-colored Zebras would not have lasted long because they would be too easy to see in reedy shadows, presumably, if any existed, they got eaten and died out.

I couldn't help thinking about this as I drove to work the other day: I'm pretty sure that natural selection works, especially when I hear about a driver racing through the crossing gates at train crossings. Usually the train wins. Thank you, Mr. Darwin.

But, as in the rest of nature, the Dodos usually take a few Sabertooth Cats with them. That thought crossed my mind as I looked up into my rearview mirror to see a woman talking on her cell phone, barely aware that she would have to stop too fast to avoid rear-ending me when I slowed for a truck ahead of me — which was turning into a driveway without signaling. Instead of this life flashing before my eyes, it was my next incarnation, one that included a heightened sense of everything around me.

Driving distractions are the herald of Digital Darwinism on a mass scale. Highway safety monitors have figured out how dangerous distractions are, although most, if not all, of their research appears focused on cell phones. Why? Partly because onboard entertainment is fairly new to ordinary cars. But also because it's an automatic flunk on the species IQ test.

“I think if you are talking about DVD players that are accessible to the driver, you are not going to see a lot of studies on that because it is so clearly not a good idea,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety spokeswoman Anne McCartt said. “I don't think it's something anyone would think is necessary to do research on.”

A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity said one reason our nation is getting fatter — the percentage of obese Americans has been climbing for years — is that people spend more time driving and watching TV than doing any kind of physical exercise. I'm sure the researchers didn't count on a lot of overlap there, but it seems couch potatoes are also becoming bucket seat potatoes (especially since their survey participants spent an average of 170 minutes a day watching TV or movies and 101 minutes a day driving).

It does seem like a no-brainer that watching TV or a DVD while driving is, well, not too bright. But that won't stop the yahoos. Hey, they're yahoos, right?

At the rate we're going, the human race will ultimately develop some advanced sense that lets us drive safely while watching TV or DVDs or working on a computer. At least the ones that survive will. But that could take centuries, and in the meantime, the losers may kill the rest of us.

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